A young Supreme Court law clerk finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a serial killer in The Outsider, a breathtaking thriller #1 New York Times bestseller James Patterson called “as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel.”
Things aren’t going well for Grayson Hernandez. He just graduated from a fourth-tier law school, he’s drowning in student debt, and the only job he can find is as a messenger. The position stings the most because it’s at the Supreme Court, where Gray is forced to watch the best and the brightest—the elite group of lawyers who serve as the justices’ law clerks—from the outside.
When Gray intervenes in a violent mugging, he lands in the good graces of the victim: the Chief Justice of the United States. Gray soon finds himself the newest—and unlikeliest—law clerk at the Supreme Court. It’s another world: highbrow debates over justice and the law in the inner sanctum of the nation’s highest court; upscale dinners with his new friends; attention from Lauren Hart, the brilliant and beautiful co-clerk he can’t stop thinking about.
But just as Gray begins to adapt to his new life, the FBI approaches him with unsettling news. The Feds think there’s a killer connected to the Supreme Court. And they want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside One First Street. Little does Gray know that the FBI will soon set its sights on him.
Racing against the clock in a world cloaked in secrecy, Gray must uncover the truth before the murderer strikes again in this thrilling high-stakes story of power and revenge by Washington, D.C. lawyer-turned-author Anthony Franze.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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By Anthony Franze
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2017 Anthony Franze
All rights reserved.
Grayson Hernandez walked up to the lectern in the well of the U.S. Supreme Court. He wasn't intimidated by the marble columns that encased the room or the elevated mahogany bench where The Nine had been known to skewer even the most experienced advocates. He calmly pulled the lever on the side of the lectern to adjust its height, a move he'd learned watching the assistant solicitor generals showing off. He stood up straight and didn't look down at any notes; the best lawyers didn't use notes. And he began his oral argument.
"Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the court —"
He was immediately interrupted, not uncommon since the justices on average asked more than one hundred questions in the hour of oral argument allotted to each case. But the voice, which rang though the chamber, wasn't from a justice of the highest court in the land.
"I've told you before, Gray, you can't be in here."
A flashlight beam cut across the empty courtroom. Gray held up a hand to shield his eyes. He smiled at the Supreme Court Police officer making his nightly rounds.
"Someday, counselor," the officer said. "But for now you might wanna focus on getting the nightlies delivered." The officer swung the ray of light to Gray's messenger cart filled with the evening's mail.
Gray waved at the officer and returned to his cart. The wheel squeaked as he rolled it out of the courtroom and into the marble hallway.
In Chief Justice Douglas's chambers, two law clerks were sitting in the reception area, fifteen feet apart, tossing a football between them. They seemed punchy, wired after a long day at the office, talking about one of the court's cases.
"A high school has no right to punish a kid for things he says off school grounds. The court needs to finally say so," one of the clerks said. He was a stocky blond guy. Gray thought his name was Mike. Mike spiraled the ball to the other clerk, who looked kind of like a young JFK.
"You're high if you think the chief is gonna side with the student," JFK said, catching the ball with a loud snap. "You upload a violent rap song on YouTube saying your math teacher is sexually harassing students, you're gonna get suspended."
"Even if it's true?" Mike said.
The Supreme Court had thirty-six law clerks, four per justice. It was an internship like no other, promising young lawyers not only a ticket to any legal job in the country, but also the chance to leave their fingerprints on the most important legal questions of the day. The current clerks were all in their late twenties, the same age as Gray, but that's where the similarities ended. Like the two throwing the ball, almost all were white, from affluent backgrounds. Gray didn't think there were any Mexican Americans in the clerk pool, and certainly none who grew up in gritty Hamilton Heights, D.C. They'd all gone to Harvard or Yale or institutions that, unlike Gray's law school, had ivy instead of graffiti on their walls. And they certainly weren't delivering mail.
Gray nodded hello as he lifted the stacks of certiorari petitions out of his cart and dropped them in the metal in-boxes for the chief's clerks.
Mike looked at Gray. "No, not more petitions, I'm begging you."
Gray smiled, but didn't engage. His boss in the marshal's office had a rule when it came to the justices and their law clerks: Speak only when necessary.
The ball whizzed across the reception area again. "Is it printed yet?" JFK asked. "I wanna get out of here." He looked over to the printer, which was humming and spitting out paper. Gray worked two night shifts a week, and there usually were no less than a dozen clerks still in the office. Theirs was a one-year gig, but they worked as if the justices wanted to squeeze five years out of them.
"It won't take long," Mike said. "It's a short memo, and I just want someone who's a disagreeable ass to point out any soft spots before I turn it in to the chief."
"You're wasting your time. He's never gonna side with the student, he —"
"This case is no different than Tinker v. Des Moines," Mike countered. "The court said disruptive speech at school could be punished, but not speech made off school grounds. Off-campus speech, including posting a song on YouTube, should be covered by the First Amendment just like everything else. It's none of the school's business."
JFK gave a dismissive grunt. "A rap expert from Greenwich, Connecticut, I love it."
Mike threw the ball hard at his co-clerk.
"Hey," JFK said, shaking off the sting after reeling in the throw. "I'm just saying, the Tinker case was decided in the late sixties. You can't apply it in the digital world. You're in an ivory tower if you think the chief will blindly follow Tinker."
Gray pretended not to listen, but he lingered, enjoying the intellectual banter.
The ball flew by again. "Ivory tower?" Mike said. "Fine, let's ask an everyman." He pointed the football at Gray. "Hey, Greg, can we ask you something?"
Mike had once asked Gray his name, a regular man of the people.
"Sorry. Gray. We have a question: Do you think if a high school student is off campus and posts something offensive on social media a school can punish him for it?"
JFK chimed in: "It's not just posting something offensive. It's a profanity-laden rap that accuses a teacher of sexually harassing students and threatens to 'put a cap' in the guy."
Gray pondered the question as he retrieved mail from the out-boxes. "I agree with what Murderous Malcolm said about the case."
The clerks shot each other a look. That morning the New York Times ran a story about the case, in which a famous rapper was interviewed and defended the student's right to free speech. Every morning the Supreme Court's library sent around an e-mail aggregating news stories relating to the court. Gray was probably the only person at One First Street who read them all.
Gray continued. "I think the First Amendment allows a kid who saw a wrong happening to write a poem about it over a beat." Gray wheeled the cart toward the door. "And if the chief justice disagrees, you might mention all the violence in those operas he loves so much."
"That's what I'm talking about," Mike said, spiking the ball, then doing a ridiculous touchdown dance. He strutted over to Gray and gave him a high five.
For a moment, it felt like Gray was a clerk himself, an equal weighing in on the most significant school-speech case in decades.
"Hey, Gray," JFK said.
Gray turned, ready to continue his defense of the First Amendment.
"I've got some books that need to be delivered to the library."
* * *
When Gray arrived at the gym two hours later, his dad already had his hands wrapped and was hitting the heavy bag. There was a large sweat stain on his shirt. "You're late," he called out.
"I told you, I have the night shift on Sundays," Gray said.
His dad didn't respond, just pounded the bag.
He wasn't going to get any sympathy from Manny Hernandez about the night shift. This was his father's one night off from the pizza shop. Since his dad's cancer went into remission, they'd been meeting every Sunday night at the old boxing club in Adams Morgan. Gray would have preferred that they spent these times together somewhere other than a smelly gym, but it made his father happy to see him back in the gloves. It was these moments that Gray was reminded that he probably wasn't the man his father had dreamed he'd become. With his books and big dreams, Gray was his mother's boy.
Gray punched the bag, the hits vibrating through him, his thoughts venturing to his encounter with the law clerks. He threw his weight into his right.
Let's ask an everyman.
Then his left.
I've got some books that need to be delivered to the library.
Gray continued to pummel the bag, his heart pounding, sweat dripping from his brow.
"Somethin' wrong?" His father came and stood behind the bag, holding it in place as Gray kept going at it. "Talk to me."
"It's nothing," Gray finally said, catching his breath, wiping his forehead with his arm. "Just work stuff."
"I thought it was going well? You've loved that building since you were a little kid. And now you're working there, helping the justices."
"I don't think delivering the mail is exactly helping the justices, Dad."
"It's a foot in the door. Once they get to know you, see how smart you are ..."
Things didn't work that way, but Gray wasn't in the mood to argue.
"It'll happen, son," his father added. "You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson."
"I know, Dad, I know."CHAPTER 2
At seven the next morning, Gray sat at his cubicle, tired and his muscles aching from the workout the night before. He started his day, as always, slugging down a large coffee while reading SCOTUSblog, a website that covered the court. It was the first day of the new term, and the pundits predicted it would be an exciting year with several landmark cases.
Gray turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Shelby, one of the marshal's aides. A mistake he'd made after a night of drinking with the other aides. She made a point of saying she'd never been with "a guy like him," which he assumed meant a poor kid from a sketchy side of D.C. She worked part-time while finishing her senior year at Georgetown.
"Martin wants to see you," she said.
Gray looked across the expansive cube farm. He could see Martin Melnick, their supervisor, through the glass walls of his small interior office in the back. He was eating something wrapped in foil. A breakfast burrito, maybe. Shelby's expression summed up her assessment of Martin: Ick. Martin was in his late thirties, ancient by aide-pool standards. Overweight with bad teeth, he was the antithesis of the bright young things who worked at the high court, the butt of many jokes. He was never particularly nice to Gray; the opposite, actually. But Martin was good at his job and didn't deserve the ridicule, so Gray kind of rooted for him in all of his slobbiness.
Before Gray made his way over to Martin, Shelby said, "Who's that?" She pointed to a photo pinned to Gray's cubicle. It was of a boxer in the ring, bruised and battered, arms in the air, standing over his opponent who was out cold.
"My dad, back in the day." Gray had pinned it up his first day on the job. His own Facebook motivational meme.
Shelby squeezed Gray's bicep. "I see where you get —"
"I've gotta get over to Martin," Gray said, politely extracting himself.
Martin's office didn't help his image. Stacks of papers everywhere. Post-it notes all over the place. He glanced up at Gray and handed him an envelope.
"We got a rush delivery for E.R.D.'s chambers."
E.R.D. were the initials for Edgar R. Douglas, the chief justice. In his month on the job, Gray had learned that the Supreme Court was obsessed with abbreviations and acronyms.
"Oral arguments start at ten, so get this to his clerk ASAP. His name's on the envelope."
Gray fast-walked up to the main floor, shuttling through the impressive Great Hall that was lined with marble columns and busts of past chief justices. He nodded at the officer manning the bronze latticework door and made his way to the chief justice's chambers. The chief's secretary, a tough old bird named Olga Romanov, flicked him a glance.
"I have a delivery for Keir Landon."
"The clerks are getting breakfast," she said in her clipped Eastern European accent.
"Do you know where?"
"Breakfast. Where do you think?"
Gray forced a smile, then headed back downstairs to the court's cafeteria. He marched past the assembly line of trays and the public seating area and into the private room reserved for the law clerks. A group of four were sitting at the long table.
Gray cleared his throat when they didn't look up. When that didn't work: "Excuse me. I have a delivery for Keir Landon."
The guy from last night who looked like JFK popped his head up. He walked over to Gray and plucked the envelope from his hand.
"What's up, Greg?" Mike said from the group.
Before Gray could correct him again on the name, Gray's phone pinged. A text from Martin, another rush delivery.
Gray hurried out, tapping a text to Martin as he paced quickly through the cafeteria. He didn't look up until he bumped into someone. A tiny woman in her seventies. It was only when the elderly woman's food tray hit the floor that Gray recognized her: Justice Rose Fitzgerald Yorke. She looked different without the black robe. Always weird seeing the teacher out of school. Yorke was one of the most beloved members of the court. Gray had read that when Yorke graduated from Harvard in the fifties, the only woman and number one in her class, none of the white-shoe law firms would hire a woman as a lawyer. A few had offered to make her a secretary. Maybe that explained why she ate in the public cafeteria rather than the justices' private dining room, or why she organized the office birthday celebrations for every single employee at the court. She knew what it was like to be an outsider. She brought what some would derisively call empathy to her jurisprudence.
Justice Yorke bent over to pick up her spilled plate and silverware.
"Justice Yorke, I'm so sorry. Please, let me clean this up." Gray lightly put a hand on the justice's arm.
"It's no problem, young man, I can clean up after myself."
"No, really, it's my fault. Please."
The manager of the cafeteria was standing there now, looking annoyed. He gestured for Justice Yorke to come with him to get a new plate. The manager shot Gray a hard look as he spirited the justice away.
So there he was on the first Monday in October — the opening day of the term — on hands and knees wiping up the floor, the clerks passing by on their way back to chambers.
You just gotta pay your dues, Grayson.CHAPTER 3
At the end of his shift, Gray headed down to the court's garage to get his bike. In the elevator, he contemplated his dinner options. He wasn't sure if he could take another night of ramen or SpaghettiOs. Maybe he'd go to the pizza shop. Or to his parents' apartment. Mom could always be counted on for a good meal, and he could bring some laundry. The elevator doors spread open to a field of gray concrete. The bike rack was empty but for his beat-up Schwinn. As he unlocked the chain, he heard a commotion. In the back, behind one of the support beams.
Gray stepped toward the sound. Next to an SUV parked in a reserved spot he saw two men: one had fallen on the ground, the other standing over him. The guy must have slipped. Was he hurt? Something about how he didn't try to get up and the stance of the other man didn't seem quite right.
"Everything okay?" Gray said.
The man who was standing whirled his head around. That's when Gray noticed the ski mask.
Before Gray could process the situation, the assailant had kicked the man on the ground and charged Gray.
Gray's father had taught him that when someone is coming at you, in the boxing ring or on the street, time slows. Nature's way to give you a chance to evade the predator. That was how Gray dodged the blade that lashed in a wide arc, grazing his abdomen.
A panic washed over Gray. And when the attacker came at him again, it wasn't one of Dad's bob-and-weaves that saved him, but a crude kick — more Jason Statham than Cassius Clay — that connected to Ski Mask's chest. The guy slammed into a car, but he didn't go down. He roared forward at Gray again. Gray did a bullfighter's move and pushed the attacker past him, but felt a bite in his side. Ski Mask then jammed something into the small of Gray's back. He felt a jolt of electricity burning into him — a shockwave up his spine — causing him to spasm and gasp for air. Gray went black for a moment, then he was flat on the cold concrete.
Gray watched as Ski Mask turned his attention to the other man who was on his feet now. It was only then that Gray got a good look at the victim: Chief Justice Douglas. The chief had scurried behind a car and was frantically thumbing a key fob, his panic button. The elevator dinged and Gray heard the slap of dress shoes on concrete, the court's police.
Still on the ground, Gray shifted his eyes toward the man in the ski mask, but he was gone. Gray's vision blurred. He heard yelling. Then things went dark.
Excerpted from The Outsider by Anthony Franze. Copyright © 2017 Anthony Franze. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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